Richmond Kicker's City Stadium (Credit: Nathan Reynolds)

Interview with Richmond Kickers’ GM Matt Spear – Head Coach Search and 2020 Roster Building

Year One is in the books for the new Richmond Kickers ownership group and general manager Matt Spear. We sat down to discuss where things stand in the search for the next head coach and how the process to rebuild the roster is going.

It’s been less than 12 months since 22 Holdings LLC became the owners of the Richmond Kickers. The announcement came along with the introduction of new General Manager Matt Spear and the confirmation that Head Coach David Bulow would be staying on. Spear and Bulow would lead the Kickers through USL League One’s inaugural season. The rest is history.

League One proved to be tougher than expected. Brand new clubs seemed to start up with relative ease, and the FC Dallas academy franchise, North Texas SC, dominated the regular season on their way to claiming the first League Cup. For Richmond is was a start-stop year. Stretches with solid defense and challenging for the playoffs, mixed with a barren attack that saw the club slip to 9th place in the league.

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After the season concluded the organization parted ways with Bulow. For a team that completely overhauled the roster as it moved into a new league, certainly, there would be concerns from the players regarding their future. With the often typical lower league soccer off-season flux in full swing, I sat down with GM Matt Spear to discuss where things stood with the new head coach search process and how the club was hoping to shape the roster for 2020 and beyond.

On how the overall search has gone thus far: 

“We have been intrigued by the quality and the quantity of coaches who have applied for the position so far. We are very close to determining our finalists and want to make the decision soon. But we have to keep in mind that the USL Championship regular season recently concluded and the Playoffs are still on-going. As that ends, it could trigger dominoes that impact our search.”

On the traits the club is looking for in the next head coach: 

Someone who can identify and develop young talent. Has winning experience, is friendly, a good communicator with the press and our community. An individual that has an identity (playing style) but is flexible to adjust mid-game and midseason. While not a requirement, we would prefer someone with USL experience, as they would already know the league, teams, travel, and finances versus someone from abroad for example, who may need a lot more time to acclimate to the league.”

On Coach Mika Elovaara:

“Mika will be staying on with the organization. He is highly respected in the locker room and we wanted to have that level of continuity. He stays on regardless of who the next head coach is and all candidates have been told that.”

When asked about Nate Miller:

“I won’t comment on specific individuals, but respect what Lansing was able to build in 2019. It was unfortunate what happened there and for that community. A key difference in that situation was that they had a single owner, whereas Richmond has multiple owners (to spread the cost and risk). And we continue to seek and add more investors.”

On comparing the player recruitment process last off-season to what is planned for this coming window: 

“One of the first things we look at is the player’s character. Do they buy into the vision for the club? We like to use the phrase ‘Pros Next Door.’ They are not millionaires but are there for the love of the sport. For the community pride, relationships and experience. When I arrived some of the team was already in place. The club has a winning pedigree, but it’s now been three years of missing the playoffs. In the 2019 roster, we had great people and who had a high work effort, but we underachieved. The product on the field next season needs to be more attacking and exciting. Most people would rather see a 4-3 loss than a 1-0 loss. 

2020 roster decisions: 

“We will keep more players than I think people may expect as there were some very positive ingredients. When making those decisions the club will look at what is each player’s potential, the budget, how they played in 2019, the club’s future style of play, where the player is in their career, can they play at a higher level in the future, and how are they in the locker room.”

How the club wants to shape the roster in the years ahead:

“Overall we want to trend younger. The 3rd tier will generally be a young league. Players who are starting their path up. Next season USL League One will have five MLS-built academy clubs, whose main focus is bridging their youth teams and their MLS teams. We won’t be as young as them but want to highlight homegrown talent, players looking to jump start their careers after injuries like Joe Gallardo, and local college players like we had with Eli Lockaby this season. But we will also have a few older veterans too who help bring experience and leadership to the roster.”

Next week I’ll have the second half of my interview with Matt Spear where we discussed lessons learned from 2019, City Stadium, the vision for the club and if there is any interest in starting a women’s team under the new ownership group in the future.

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